current event

Cutting Through the Noise: Advocating for our Kids during the Presidential Election

Written by: Katie Carter, Director of Research, Education & Public Policy, National Safe Place Network

As a political junkie, I love presidential election years. I especially love years like this: where a few months ago there was no incumbent and wide-open races on both sides (depending on who you ask). These campaign cycles can also be incredibly frustrating. Candidates visit small towns where they would never otherwise set foot, eat state fair food, rub elbows with locals, and mug for photos. It all feels inauthentic. Fake. How can a long-serving U.S. senator really speak on behalf of working families? How can a billionaire relate to middle class workers? How can privileged white men and women relate to the plights of runaway youth? How can powerful people understand what it’s like to be homeless when they have never had to worry whether they will have a place to sleep, or a hot meal and shower waiting for them in the morning?

This is where we come in. As advocates, youth workers, execs leading youth and family-serving agencies, it’s up to us to make sure the needs of these young people and families are heard. We need to beat the drum to make sure affordable housing, funds for runaway and homeless youth programs, and affordable health care for young people are priorities for elected leaders at all levels of government – from city council to the President of the United States.

Here are some ideas for getting involved this election year:

  1. Host elected officials at your organization or shelter. Show them around and explain how you operate, what you need, and what it means to the young people you serve. This could include your city officials, state senators and representations, or US congress members. If you are in an early caucus or primary state, you may even be able to get a presidential candidate (see above comments).
  2. Write Letters to the Editor of your local papers. Highlight your programs and how proposed legislative changes (at all levels of government), will impact your agencies and the youth you service, for the better or worse.
  3. Communicate with your elected officials. Make phone calls. Email them. National officials track the number of calls and emails they receive on specific issues. State officials often do the same. It may not seems like they are listening, they are tracking!
  4. Encourage your staff to vote. Encourage young people to vote. Take young people to the primaries or election in November. Help them register. It’s their right.

However you get involved, don’t pass up this opportunity to make your voice heard and advocate on behalf of the young people we serve.

Advertisements

August 12 is International Youth Day

international_youth_day_logo-3483

The United Nations declared August 12 International Youth Day in 1999, providing an opportunity to celebrate young people around the world. The focus of this year’s International Youth Day is to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. You can read more about the agenda here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

The United Nations has also developed a toolkit with activity ideas to celebrate International Youth Day: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/documents/Toolkit-IYD-2016.pdf

One activity listed in the toolkit is “Advocate.” While the toolkit stresses advocating for celebrating International Youth Day and encouraging youth to make sustainable consumption choices given this year’s focus, an important advocacy activity in the United States is for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every country except the United States has ratified the treaty.

Ratification of the treaty has resulted in greater restrictions on employing children, greater focus on child heath, and a decrease in legal corporal punishment against children. It is past time for the United States to pass this treaty and solidify its commitment to children at home and abroad.

National Safe Place Week 2016

NSP-Week---SP-Website---Slideshow-Image

 

National Safe Place Week 2016 (#NSPWeek2016) is upon us! This nationally recognized week serves to raise awareness of Safe Place, an outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. NSP Week is also a dedicated time to recognize the various partners who collaborate to offer immediate help and safety for young people. Partners include licensed Safe Place agencies, businesses, civic and social services organizations, volunteers, donors – both on the local and national levels. These partners stand together to strengthen the safety net for youth in America and that’s exactly the reason we’re celebrating this week!

To understand more about the program, let’s look back at its origin:

Safe Place launched in Louisville, Kentucky in 1983 as an outreach program of the YMCA Shelter House, a youth and family service organization of the YMCA of Greater Louisville. Access to emergency counseling and shelter for youth was raised as a community need and YMCA Shelter House figured out a solution – the creation of Safe Place. Neighborhood businesses and community volunteers stepped up to the plate and designated their business locations as Safe Place sites, creating multiple “front doors” through which youth could access the local shelter program. Who knew this local outreach effort would become such a successful and impactful program and go on to become a nationally recognized prevention and intervention initiative?

Safe Place logo

 

How Safe Place works:

  • A young person enters a Safe Place location and asks for help.
  • The site employee finds a comfortable place for the youth to wait while they call the local Safe Place licensed agency.
  • Within 20-30 minutes or less, a Safe Place representative will arrive to talk with the youth and, if necessary, provide transportation to the shelter for counseling, support, a place to stay or other resources.
  • Once at the Safe Place agency, counselors meet with the youth and provide support. Family Agency staff makes sure the youth and their families receive the help and professional services they need.

Here are some facts about the national Safe Place program:

  • More than 333,000 youth have been connected to safety and support as a result of Safe Place outreach and education.
  • Safe Place is managed by 132 licensed Safe Place agencies in 37 states and the District of Columbia. 
  • Safe Place serves more than 1,400 communities across the country.
  • There are more than 19,000 designated Safe Place locations nationwide. Locations include convenience stores, libraries, schools, fire stations, social service agencies, public buses and more.

Fire station 2

Did you know there are ways you can get involved right now to help us expand the national safety net for youth? Here’s how:

  • Raise Awareness of Safe Place on social media channels. Below are a few sample posts you may share on your Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram to show support for youth safety:
  • Sample Facebook Post: [Image of Safe Place sign] Have you ever seen this sign? It’s the universal symbol for youth safety. Safe Place is a national outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. Businesses and organizations display the Safe Place sign which means any young person can go inside, ask for help, and immediately connect to safety and supportive resources. Learn more and get involved: www.nationalsafeplace.org.
  • Sample Instagram Post: Snap an Instagram photo of the Safe Place sign in your community and share it along with the following post:Have you ever seen this sign? It’s the universal symbol for youth safety. Safe Place is a national outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. Businesses and organizations display the Safe Place sign which means any young person can go inside, ask for help, and immediately connect to safety and supportive resources. Learn more and get involved: www.nationalsafeplace.org @nspnstagram
  • Become a TXT 4 HELP Ambassador. Share information about TXT 4 HELP, a nationwide text-for-support service for youth. How TXT 4 HELP works: Teens simply text the word SAFE and their current location (address, city, state) to 69866 for immediate help. Users will receive information about the closest Safe Place location and / or youth shelter and they will also have the option to text interactively with a professional for more help. It’s quick, easy, safe, and confidential. To learn more about TXT 4 HELP, please visit: http://nationalsafeplace.org/text-4-help/

NSP Week - TXT 4 Help Tuesday

  • Donate to National Safe Place Network. Help us expand the Safe Place program into more communities across the country and connect more youth to supportive resources: http://bit.ly/nspngive

We also offer more advanced opportunities to get involved:

  • Volunteer with a local licensed Safe Place agency or a youth service organization in your community. To find a licensed Safe Place agency near you, please visit www.nationalsafeplace.org and choose your state from the “Find a Safe Place” drop down menu. Not in a Safe Place community? Ask us how you can help introduce Safe Place to a youth service organization in your area. You can also make an impact by volunteering for a youth serving agency in your community.
  • Help start Safe Place in your community. The implementation and ultimate success of the Safe Place program depends upon support from entire communities – from corporations and government leaders to youth service organizations and individuals. Please contact Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations, to learn more about what’s involved in implementing Safe Place in your community. Susan may be reached at 502.635.3660 or sharmon@nspnetwork.org.
  • Become a corporate / individual sponsor of National Safe Place Network. Are you interested in helping advance the Safe Place program through a personal or corporate sponsorship? Sponsorships enable NSPN to positively impact more youth, assist young people with services they need, expand Safe Place into new communities, and ultimately build a stronger safety net for youth. If you’re interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Laurie Jackson, NSPN President/CEO at 502.635.3660 or ljackson@nspnetwork.org.

All of that is to say – Happy National Safe Place Week, everyone! Your support strengthens the national safety net for youth, and for that we are grateful!

President Obama’s FY 2017 Budget Released

Written by: Katie Carter, Director of Research, Education & Public Policy, National Safe Place Network

President Obama released his 2017 budget proposal last week. It includes some bright spots in funding for runaway and homeless youth programs and supports for child welfare programs. This is just a proposal though, and serves as a blueprint Congress will use to build its own budget.

Here are some highlights from the proposal:

  • $6 million increase for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs, including the Basic Center, Street Outreach, and Transitional Living Programs.
  • $2 million to conduct a prevalence study of youth homelessness
  • $11 Billion to address family homelessness through creating of housing vouchers and rapid re-housing assistance
  • $85 million for the education of homeless youth
  • Funds to support demonstration grants to help states implement the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014

For additional highlights of homeless programs in general, check out a summary from the National Alliance to End Homelessness: http://www.endhomelessness.org/page/-/files/FY%202017%20Budget%20Rundown.pdf

For additional information about programs and funding related specifically to children and young people, check out First Focus’s highlights: https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/NSPN/big-investments-in-kids-in-the-presidents-budget.pdf

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: What’s it All About?

Written by: Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator, National Safe Place Network

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (MLK Day), a time to commemorate Dr. King’s vital role in the Civil Rights Movement. On MLK Day, Americans of every age and background will unite in a day of service as a way to transform Dr. King’s life and teachings into community action that helps resolve social problems.

More than 20 years ago, the U.S. Congress designated MLK Day, the third Monday in January, as a national day of service. MLK Day is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service, making it a “day on, not a day off.” As it states on the http://www.nationalservice.gov website:

“The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.”

To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, click here: http://www.nationalservice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/MLK%20Day%202016%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

To find a place to serve on MLK Day, please visit: http://www.nationalservice.gov/mlkday

As Dr. King famously and selflessly stated, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Take time today and throughout the year to serve others. It will make all the difference.

Five Tips on Creating an Awareness Campaign

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month is coming up in January. We encourage you to join us throughout January as, together, we can increase awareness of human trafficking and combine our efforts to prevent it. Each week, we’ll highlight and share information on the following topics: About Human Trafficking, Raising Awareness, Human Trafficking Prevention, and Celebrating Survivors. The topics were created to make it easy for YOU to make a difference.

Want to start supporting this campaign before the official start date of January 1, 2016? Join our ThunderClap! ThunderClap is a platform that allows users to flood Facebook, Twitter with a shared message – at the same time. By joining, Thunderclap will automatically post the following message to your page on January 11, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. ET. It’s easy to join.  Just visit http://thndr.me/zDh2DU to schedule your post and join the nation in making some noise on social media to #EndHumanTrafficking.  Thunderclap Message: “I stand against human traffickers. People are not for sale. Together we can #EndHumanTrafficking.”

Watch for details in your email and on social media about how to participate in NSPN’s and FYSB’s #EndHumanTrafficking campaign.

If you’re planning on creating your own awareness campaign for human trafficking or another cause, check out some tips we put together for you. Feel free to share your campaign ideas in the comments below.

NSPN’s top Five Tips on Creating an Awareness Campaign

  1. Make a measureable difference. Don’t start planning until you have determined the specific outcomes you want to meet.  After you determine your outcomes, create a process that is tied to the outcomes. Your process should include lots of creativity and be designed to ignite and capture the emotion of your followers. Help your followers understand the value and purpose and make it easy for them to help you meet your goal(s).
  2. Be prepared to invest. Whether your goal is to raise awareness or raise funds, you need to be prepared to make a large investment to your campaign. Your key investment will be (or should be)… TIME.  The more successful you want your campaign to be, the more time and energy you will need to spend planning and managing it.
  3. Be the expert. Make sure you have done your research. Knowing and being ready to share the facts about your particular cause will make you a credible resource for followers. Followers want to support and be a part of something they feel will make a difference – not something that will fizzle out. If you know and share your expertise, you will help create a larger following which will help expand the reach or breadth of your message. Don’t hesitate to form a committee of experts. Collaborating with experts in the field will also broaden your following. Keep in mind – you should use this expertise to motivate your followers to get involved, share, or participate with other activities designed to help meet your campaign goals. Motivation v/s education will help carry your message further.
  4. Create (and stick to) a promotions timeline. Creating a timeline will help you prepare exactly what you need and when you need it. It will help drive the brainstorming process and creativity. When writing your piece for the website or a social media posting, you may think – “Oh, we should also create and include this type of image with this.” or “We really need to include a resource or article to go along with this message.” Following your timeline will help ensure you have time to prepare a powerful message.
  5. Share your message. Here are some actions you can take to help meet your campaign goals:
    1. Invite others to get involved.  Asking your stakeholders (partners, members, volunteers, etc.) as well as local businesses and organizations to get involved will help increase “man-power” and extend your reach.   Make sure to show your appreciation and support.  Keep in contact with them, encourage them to stay on track with the timeline, and offer them help and support with specific tasks.
    2. Create a website or page on an existing website dedicated to your campaign. Create a space that is a “hub” of information for followers to access and gain knowledge about the cause.  The page should inform what the cause is, how or who it affects, and offer ways followers can help meet your campaign goals.
    3. Get the word out. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Thunderclap, etc.) is a great platform to share your message. Make it easy for your followers by providing post samples they can copy and paste.  Create a hashtag for your campaign. You can also use direct mail, emails, or pass out cards or flyers on the streets of your community. Don’t forget to share your website or page for followers to learn about the cause.
    4. Submit a press release to media outlets (television, radio, newspaper reporters and editors).
    5. Host an event such as a walk, rally, or other event with a large group.
    6. Create and display posters/signs. Yard signs have been a successful option for many campaigns.
    7. Exhibit at or sponsor an event happening during your campaign.

Happy campaigning!

The Gift of Giving

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Observed annually on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving in the U.S. and shopping events on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus their holiday and end-of-year giving. 

As an organization serving youth in crisis and those who provide vital services to this population, NSPN relies on gifts from individuals and corporate partners to ensure an effective system of response for youth across the United States. NSPN utilizes your donated goods, time, and funds to reach youth in need of help and safety. Many youth who seek our services are scared and alone, with no place to go. Others just need someone to listen. If your family is in-tact and the children in your lives have not experienced the fear of being bullied, the scarring that comes with abuse, or the hunger that comes with neglect, you and those children are incredibly fortunate. NSPN is there for each youth and family that experience these and many other issues that make life challenging. Without your contributions, NSPN simply would not have the opportunity to continue this necessary work.

Your dollars make a difference. Here are lives that have been impacted because someone like you cared and made a contribution.

Jayden - Being bullied.jpgJayden, 14, was being bullied by some of his peers at school. Every day as he walked home from school, the bullies would approach him and verbally abuse him and make threats against his life. Not sure where to turn or what to do, Jayden decided to ask for help at the local convenience store which displayed a Safe Place sign. Jayden spoke with counselors at the licensed Safe Place agency and they connected with his school counselor. The situation was handled appropriately and now Jayden feels safer walking home and has since felt comfortable making new friends.

Sarah - girl texting.jpgSarah, 17, utilized TXT 4 HELP (69866) when she realized she was thinking more about how to die than how to live. The professional counselors at the help line made a meaningful connection with Sarah and stayed with her via a call until the authorities reached her for support. Sarah told the counselors, “I didn’t really want to die, I just wanted help living.” Sarah continues to receive the counseling she needs to live a happier and healthier life.

Portrait Of Smiling Teenage Boy

Robert, 13, learned about Safe Place during a school presentation and decided to ask for help. He was suffering physical abuse at the hands of his step father and was living with his older cousins. After school one day, Robert went to the nearest Safe Place, a fire station, and asked for help. After speaking with agency staff, he decided to stay at the youth shelter. His mother left her husband after learning about the abuse. While at the shelter, Robert and his mother established goals and made a commitment to work on their communication with one another. Robert was reunified with his mother and now feels safe in his home.

Young black guy in red cap

Terrance, 16, had never felt accepted at home. Once he “came out” to his family as being gay, his father kicked him out and told him he was “dead” to them. Terrance attempted to find a place to live with friends but no one had the resources to support him while he worked to finish school. He was able to connect to a program of an NSPN member agency that offered independent living resources and support. Terrance now serves on a youth advisory board for that agency and is helping other youth learn how to give back to their community.

8a00243b-fbae-4a9e-b6a3-2231f2766f01

NSPN shared resources on how to train staff and volunteers from a trauma-informed perspective. Staff were appreciative of the training when faced with a particularly challenging youth who was the survivor of years of abuse and neglect. The staff had learned how to support while maintaining safety. They also learned how to listen without feeling the need to have all of the answers. The youth maintained in the program and successfully completed her GED.

Help us continue to make difference in the lives of youth and families. Donate today at: www.tinyurl.com/nspndonation

Ways you can help:

  • Search the web and make purchases using Goodsearch / Goodshop: goodsearch.com/goodshop-invite/nspn-2219407. Each time you search the web using Goodsearch, you raise one cent per search for NSPN. Goodshop will also donate $5 to NSPN after your first purchase of $25 or more. Goodshop continues to make donations for following purchases.
  • Raise awareness! Here are some sample social media posts you can share on your page.

Twitter:

  • [Click here and save the Safe Place logo to your computer: http://bit.ly/1IwCEpD. Then, share it on your social media page with the following message!] Have you seen this sign? It’s the universal symbol for youth safety. Learn more at nationalsafeplace.org
  • I donated to @NSPNtweets! I’m helping to expand the safety net for youth. You can help at tinyurl.com/nspndonation #GivingTuesday

Facebook:

  • [Click here and save the Safe Place logo to your computer: http://bit.ly/1IwCEpD. Then, share it on your social media page with the following message!] Have you seen this sign? It’s the universal symbol for youth safety. @Safe Place is a national outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. Any youth can go to any location that hangs this sign and seek help. Learn more and get involved: nationalsafeplace.org
  • Need to talk? @Safe Place is there to listen. Safe Place provides TXT 4 HELP, a texting service which gives youth the opportunity to connect with a mental health professional. If you’re a teen in trouble, need help, or just need someone to listen, text SAFE and your current location (address, city, state) to 69866. Within seconds, you will receive a message with the closest Safe Place location and contact number for the local youth shelter. After receiving this message, reply with 2CHAT to connect immediately with a professional. It’s quick, easy, safe and confidential. Learn more at: http://nationalsafeplace.org/text-4-help/
  • I donated to @National Safe Place Network! I’m helping to expand the national safety net for youth. You can help at tinyurl.com/nspndonation.

Halloween Safety

By: Danielle White, Executive Administrative Assistant, National Safe Place Network / RHYTTAC

As Halloween approaches, many people seek out the seasonal thrills and chills. For some, however, the scariest part of Halloween is not the ghosts and goblins. Children are twice as likely to be hit by cars on Halloween, according to national statistics. Additionally, costumes and decorations can create tripping and fire hazards, while candy and other Halloween goodies can pose health risks.

It’s not all demons and dangers, though. By following some basic safety guidelines, everyone can have a safe and spooky Halloween!

COSTUME SAFETY

  • When picking out costumes, be sure to look for flame resistant materials such as nylon and polyester. Store bought costumes will often be labeled as “flame resistant.”
  • To avoid trips and falls, use face paint or makeup instead of masks for maximum visibility and ensure that the costumes are an appropriate length.
  • If props include swords or other blades, make sure they are pliable and smooth. Such precautions will reduce the risk of fall-related injuries.
  • Test face paint and makeup in a small area before applying it to the entire face. This will minimize the risk of skin irritation or other allergic reactions. Be sure to wash off all paint and makeup before bed.
  • Choose bright or light colors when possible. If costumes are dark, attach reflective tape or other light sources. Have youth carry flashlights or glow sticks at all times.
  • Avoid oversized clothing and shoes, as well as costume pieces that stick out so far as to be uncontrollable around open flames, doorways, or faces.

TRICK OR TREATING SAFETY

  • Establish a pre-planned route.
  • When planning your route, check the sex offender registry and keep youth away from those houses.
  • Go out in groups and make sure there are plenty of chaperones
  • Provide all youth with contact information, including addresses and cell phone numbers, in case anyone gets separated.
  • Serve a filling meal prior to trick-or-treating to reduce the temptation to snack on candy before it has been checked.
  • Review the difference between tricks and vandalism. Hold youth accountable for their actions.
  • Walk safely! Stay on sidewalks when possible. If you must be in the road, stay on the far edge and walk facing the oncoming traffic. Only cross the street at corners or crosswalks. Don’t run across the street and never cross between parked cars.
  • Do not allow youth to enter any homes.
  • As tempting as they may be, avoid homemade treats offered by strangers. Stick to factory-wrapped goodies instead. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering before consuming (common signs of tampering include: unusual appearance, discoloration, torn wrappers, or tiny pinholes). Be aware of any allergies (especially nuts) and help youth steer clear.

DRIVING SAFETY

  • Slow down and be alert when driving in residential areas.
  • Enter and exit driveways or alleys slowly and carefully.
  • Eliminate distractions inside the car so that you can concentrate on your surroundings.
  • Turn on headlights earlier in the evening to help spot children in dark costumes.
  • Be aware of your local trick-or-treating hours and be especially alert during those times.

If trick or treating is not an option, consider hosting an event instead. This can be a fun alternative in a controlled environment and can be accomplished with minimal planning. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Provide healthy treats as well as candy—fruits, veggies, cheese, low-calorie treats, and drink options other than soda.
  • Use party games to promote physical activity while having fun.
  • Keep walking paths, stairs, and other high traffic areas well-lit and free of obstacles.
  • Never leave jack-o-lanterns or candles unattended or on the floor. Keep them on sturdy tables or shelves away from walkways, doorsteps, and curtains.
  • Activities can include: costume contests, jack-o-lantern carving, cookie decorating, ghost stories (try ghost story mad libs for a funny twist), and Halloween themed games.
  • If bobbing for apples, be sure to reduce bacterial contamination by thoroughly washing them with running water and removing any dirt or other obvious spots.

However you choose to spend your Halloween, be sure to celebrate safely so that everyone can enjoy this spook-tacular holiday and live to haunt another day.

Halloween Owl with Witches Hat Sitting on Broomstick with Happy Halloween text Isolated on White Background Illustration

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

By: Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator, National Safe Place Network

October is upon us – a month many associate with the start of the fall season, cooler temperatures, Halloween and pumpkins. In addition to these common themes, the month also brings to light the topic of bullying prevention. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time when communities unite to raise awareness of bullying prevention through events, activities, outreach and education.

Bullying was once considered a harmless childhood ritual experienced by many youth. Today, research indicates that bullying has significant short-term and long-term effects that impact education, health and safety. PACER’s National Bullying Resource Center highlights the following negative outcomes related to bullying:

  • Education: Bullying can negatively impact a child’s access to education and lead to school avoidance, decrease in grades, inability to concentrate, loss of interest in academic achievement and increase in dropout rates.
  • Health: Bullying can lead to physical and mental health problems, including headaches and stomach ache, sleeping problems, low self-esteem, increased fear or anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.
  • Safety: Bullying impacts a young person’s sense of well-being, such as self-isolation, increased aggression, self-harm and suicidal ideation, feeling of alienation at school, fear of other students, and retaliation.

PACER offers several resources to use this month and throughout the year to inspire, educate and encourage others to join the movement to prevent bullying. Sign a petition, register your school or organization as a Champion Against Bullying, participate in Unity Day – there are many opportunities to get involved. Click here to learn more and take action: http://www.pacer.org/bullying/nbpm/

Bullying prevention starts with YOU! To learn more about bullying prevention, please check out the following resources:

September is National Suicide Prevention Month

Written by: Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network & RHYTTAC

Although I had learned about suicide and had even been a peer educator in high school, I had not personally been impacted by a completed act until my freshman year in college. I was serving as a resident advisor and was called into the head resident counselor’s office to hear the news. The boyfriend of a friend of mine had shot himself in the woods on campus. I was sad for my friend, angry at the young man and confused about what had happened. I had been trained to look for signs. Everyone had seen this young man many times and although we knew he had a temper, it always seemed to be directed at others. Like the other individuals involved, we waded through the rivers of grief and found that the depth of the waters differed from person to person. Feelings of guilt, anxiety, depression and anger were common and yet, like most moving waters – the rivers flowed and we found renewed energy to continue our life journeys – even though his was complete.

In later years I was impacted by the suicide of a young transitional living program participant. As a supervisor, I would sometimes be called into action when a staff person was sick. One Sunday I was covering the program and this young man indicated he was hungry. He was the only one in the building so I decided to make pancakes. I can still see his face and remember how moved I was when he gave me a hug and expressed sincere gratitude that I had made this small gesture for no other reason than to be kind to him. He talked about his life and how he always felt like a burden to others and how he wanted things to be different. He was able to verbalize his desire for close relationships while confirming his doubt that these same relationships could last. Six months later, he completed suicide on a different Sunday morning. He asked that there be no service as no one would mourn him “for real.” He was wrong – I cried. The staff cried. Volunteers cried.  Like the other individuals involved, our tears joined in the rivers of grief and we found that the depth of the waters differed from person to person. Feelings of guilt, anxiety, depression and anger were common and yet, like most moving waters – the rivers flowed and we found renewed energy to continue our life journeys – even though his was complete.

Most recently, my nephew called to say that my sister attempted to take her own life. She was in the hospital and although she indicated that her overdose on pain medication was an accident – no one in the family overlooked the obvious. She was still with us and we could share our love, appreciation and support. Relief was one side of our family coin and sadness the other. My sister has been surviving with multiple sclerosis for more than 25 years. She is in constant and considerable pain. She cannot breathe and it is difficult and close to impossible for her to move. She says she is tired. She says she is done. She says her faith tells her that there is something next. Regardless of whether she intended to complete suicide or not, the result of the potential loss is frightening. We all responded with concern, sought reassurances and then continued in our individual boats down the rivers of grief and found that the depth of the waters differed from person to person. Feelings of guilt, anxiety, depression and anger were common and yet, like most moving waters – the rivers flowed and we found renewed energy to continue our life journeys – even though we do not know when hers will be complete.

I know very few people who have not been impacted by suicide. Internal fleeting thoughts;  personal attempts; friend or family losses; media exposure – all demonstrate to us that to think about this life fully will also involve recognizing the inevitable nature of death. In trainings and consultations we discuss how suicide is different from any other form of loss. The intentionality of the act and the self-directed nature of the decision make it very difficult to understand, talk about or find ways to respond to in healthy ways.

However, the conversations about suicide should be happening at many levels – familial, organizational, community – and these conversations should be happening often. Knowing the warning signs and seeking help for the individuals is critical. It is better to breach a sensitive subject and have the person be alive even if they are angry.

People who complete suicide may exhibit one or more warning signs. The more warning signs, the greater the risk. Example warning signs include:

  • Feeling trapped
  • Talk about killing themselves
  • Stating of implying that he or she has no reason to live
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Referencing unbearable pain
  • Feeling as if there are no answers or no way out of situations
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Acting recklessly
  • Withdrawing from activities or friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression or violence
  • Saying goodbye
  • Depression
  • Loss of interests in hobbies or other activities
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Unexpected euphoria or happiness

As we examine this topic during National Suicide Prevention Month, we at National Safe Place Network encourage you to get involved at whatever level makes sense for you.

Consider:

The loss of life is a loss of potential. Possibility evaporates and is replaced with thoughts of what could have been. If you or someone your know is thinking about suicide, please seek help. National Safe Place Network envisions a world in which all youth are safe. Thank you for your efforts to make this vision a reality.